Heirs of the Founders

Author's notes about this and that:

Eek! Chapter creep; my original intention was to keep chapters in the eight to ten thousand words range but here we are on the near side of twelve thousand. Oh well, there's not much I can do about it since neither of the two parts for the chapter allowed for a neat and tidy split.

With that aside, I'm thanking everyone for their time and interest and while I don't usually address individual reviews I'm thankful for them all the sames. With that in mind, to the readers who aren't happy with my Hermione; you may consider yourselves well and truly informed that I'm not changing her but if it makes you feel better I can assure that she's only a good little 'sub' for Harry: look out everyone else at Hogwarts lest you feel her sublime art upon your person. Of course that little bit leads to a warning; this chapter takes a rather mature turn with an exploration of Hermione's nature and where it comes from: needless to say, she had quite the unique childhood.

So, thanks again and enjoy.

Animekitty2

Obligatory blah blah blah:

I do not now, nor have I ever and only will if I'm the last person on Earth (at which point the whole concept of rights, royalties and responsibility, etc. . . becomes moot, to say the least) own Harry Potter or the characters therein, they belong to J. K. Rowling; I'm just playing with them.

Chapter Seven

The unexpected voice startled Harry and Hermione; their gazes immediately snapped towards the address and upon the portrait immediately to their left. From the framed canvas, a distinguished and elegantly robed man scrutinized the young witch and wizard who had just entered his domain. To the children he appeared to be a wizard in his prime but his reptilian-green eyes belied age and hauntingly shone with accumulated knowledge and wisdom, garnered from uncounted years. He smiled at Hermione and Harry; seemingly inviting their response.

"H . . . Hello, sir," Hermione greeted, her voice conveying both nervousness and unbridled curiosity.

"Hmm . . . I'd recognize a Potter anywhere but you—my dear—I don't recognize at all, although you remind me of a young Rowena," the portrait said, "who are you and from who's blood do you descend?"

"Her name is Hermione Granger," Harry replied as he stepped protectively between his witch and the portrait; the question of blood and ancestry was troublesome to his ears. "Did you say you are—were—Salazar Slytherin?"

The image of the man erupted into laughter but he promptly controlled himself and said, "Oh, so Potter of you, what with your gallant leap between a mere picture and your witch," The portrait had placed an odd emphasis on 'your witch' before continuing. "Relax, you need not fear anything from me—I am nothing more than paint, canvas and an ancient Soul-Copy, after all—my only weapon is my rather sharp and forked tongue."

"She's not 'my witch' she's my friend; I don't own her," Harry countered forcefully.

"Have you asked what her feelings are on that matter, young master?" The portrait queried with a shrewd chuckle. Harry glanced at Hermione; her face was very red.

"Enough, Sal," the woman in the portrait beside Slytherin now spoke, firmly, "they are children—precocious for sure, but still children—only newly woken to their differences. Hello and welcome young Scion Potter and Miss Granger," the imaged moistened her lips with the tip of her pink tongue, "I am the Soul-Copy of Rowena Ravenclaw and I'm very happy to meet two so promising—not quite ripe—students; I sense great potential in you both and I'm tingling at the very thought of it."

The voice from the portrait claiming to be Rowena Ravenclaw had changed when it addressed the young Gryffindors and had become like liquid heat, seeping into and caressing nascent desires; her smile evoked thoughts not usually entertained by children or most adults for that matter.

The portrait of Salazar, watching Rowena's playfully mature and carnal interaction with two innocents induced another round of laughter from the two Founder picture.

"And . . . And you called me on my behavior, Missy Ravenclaw," Slyherin's image said, wiping mirth's tears from his painted eyes, "you've only just met and they already know more about the real you than all the history books combined. Helga; Godric, wake up we have visitors and Rowena's being naughty, again."

The portraits that Harry and Hermione—after interacting with the first two—had figured were Godric Gryffindor and Helga Hufflepuff stirred to life in their frames and joined the others in their study of the children sharing their room.

"It's so good meeting members of my house," the sonorous voice belonging to Godric Gryffindor said, "it's been many years Scion Potter—but barely yesterday to me—that we greeted your parents in this very room; they were both in their seventh year and newly engaged at the time: you've your mother's eyes, my boy. How are they and that roguish friend of theirs, Sirius Black, has he and his mother made amends?"

A sudden awkward silence grew outward from Harry and swallowed the room. Sensing her friend's discomfort and sorrow Hermione closed the gap between her and the young wizard wrapped her arms around him and snuggled into his back. His warm hand found hers and he gently held her palm against his heart.

"Oh my . . ." said the image of Helga Hufflepuff, her voice warm and soothing. "It seems my esteemed colleague has unintentional put his painted foot in his mouth; has something happened to your parents, my dear?"

Harry looked at Helga's portrait, sniffed a couple times and then replied, softly, "Both my parents are dead; they were killed by Voldemort a few months after my first birthday . . ."

"That foul weed of my loinsss, Tom Riddle, we ssshould have culled him when he wasss just a sssprout, I mean ssstudent," the image of Salazar Slytherin seethed and roiled in fury.

"We could do nothing at the time, Sal," said Rowena's image as she stepped from her portrait to his and enticingly slithered against the image of the angry Founder, "we had no Avatars and there were no active Patrons when the boy went to school here. I'm very sorry young Lord Potter, for all we know a fair bit about what is going on in the world we don't know everything and our powers to intervene are nonexistent without an Avatar."

"What do you mean by avatar?" Hermione asked over Harry's shoulder, she continued to hold and solace him.

"An Avatar is one of our appointed heirs," Rowena replied. "The four of us have our family legacies and our Founder's legacy. Our family legacies are passed down through our children and our children's children; the Founder's legacy is appointed for each generation and cannot be bequeathed or inherited. Those we appoint as heirs are our Avatars; they become part of Hogwarts' governing body along with their Patronal Partners; Patronal Partners are always the head of one of the Four Families."

"School politics aside, young Lord," said the gentle voice of Helga Hufflepuff, her and Godric Gryffindor had joined Rowena in Salazar's portrait, "let us officially offer our condolences on the loss of your parents—both very good and vivacious people—at such a young age."

Although Harry's eyes were dry, they still radiated sadness as he replied, "Thank you, I appreciate it. I don't really remember my parents and where one usually finds sorrow; I find a void. It's this void I weep over when I think of my parents: you know, the 'what ifs' and what 'might've beens'."

"How very mature and poignant, my boy," Godric Gryffindor observed to the concurrence of the other Founders.

"Thank you," Harry said softly as he leaned into the witch at his back, "I'm not going to dwell on things I can't control or change; the here, now and tomorrow are what I'm living for."

"How uncommonly wise for one so young," Salazar concluded, "but do not grow up in all ways too fast and make sure you allow yourself sufficient playtime with your witch, young master, she needs to be treated properly you know."

The painting's not so subtle advice made Harry's face—and then some—feel hot; it didn't help that Hermione's chest was pushing harder against his back; it was as if Salazar Slytherin's advice had given her license to be forward in the presence of the Founders.

"I think Miss Granger and I have much in common," Rowena's image—now rubbing against Salazar, extremely suggestively—said salaciously in observation of the young witch's behavior towards her wizard. "We know what we want and accept who we are; how I wish I was more than a painting so I could directly teach and mentor you, my sister."

"Ahem . . ." Godric drew everyone's attention, before saying, "Let us move away from this and focus on other matters. We should check to see what our student resources offer us this year."

"I agree with Godric, we've only just met young Lord Potter and his Miss Granger," Helga said, playfully using an implied possessive, before calling out, "Gryff!"

A shimmering sparkle rose from the center of the pentagonal table and from it emerged a tattered old hat. It squirmed and twisted about, as if surveying the room; and if a hat could smile, Gryff the Sorting Hat did.

"Well hello my old friends," the hat addressed the combined images of the Founders still in Salazar's frame, "I see Rowena hasn't changed but what might I ask has her in heat this time," the hat twisted about again. "Ah, I see; quite surprising I might add: not because our young Lord Potter-Scion Black and newly minted Lady Matriarch Hermione Jean of the Noble House of Granger are here but because they are here so soon. So, what may this old hat do for the six of you?"

"We we're going to ask about our students and if any might be presentable to us but first I must ask: what do you mean by Lord Potter-Scion Black and freshly minted?" Rowena's breathy voice revealing her excitement over the titillating bit of news.

"Hee, hee," Gryff snickered, "young Lord Potter-Scion Black erred in his Filial Protectum incantation when he sought to protect the then Miss Granger and instead spoke the incantation for the Rite of Petition, which he then seconded as the defacto head of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black—magic can be a funny thing sometimes."

The images of the four founders began laughing—Helga Hufflepuff's to the point of dropping to her knees while clutching her sides.

"That is so funny," Godric said once he was sufficiently in control of himself again, "The heads of those stuffed-robes in the Wizengamot are going to explode when young Lady Granger is first presented as the Matriarch of a newly formed Noble House, especially with her being so young."

"That's only the half of it," Gryff said, the hat itself fighting to keep from laughing, "Lady Granger is not only young but she's a newblood too."

"Oh, this just keeps getting better and better," said Salazar, fighting to maintain a modicum of decorum against the background of hilarity and the lascivious ministrations of Rowena Ravenclaw's painted fingers and body.

"Excuse me," Harry said but wasn't heard.

The young wizard tried again, a little more forcefully, "Excuse me."

"HELLO!" he bellowed and was heard; he said. "This might be funny for all of you but it's Hermione and me who'll be at the center of the storm you're laughing about—we're not exactly happy about that. Hell, we've even be told that we'll be commanded to appear before Her Majesty in the near future—we're just kids."

Godric Gryffindor turned serious and he said, "You may not find this funny now, Lord Potter-Scion Black . . ."

". . . Please, please just call me Harry."

"As you wish, Harry my lad," Godric complied, "but when you and Lady Granger . . ."

". . . It's Hermione, just Hermione, please," said the young witch, her exasperation plainly evident.

"As I was saying, Harry and Hermione, when you look back at this through the lens of years—perhaps decades hence—you will see the humor that you now reject and I'm sure you'll have a side-splitting laugh over it," Godric said.

"Maybe tomorrow but not today," Harry replied, "I have what feels like a thousand demands on me already because of who I am and I've pulled my first friend into this maelstrom with me. I've already spent an arduous twenty weeks and then some under the tutorage of Gringotts and I've barely begun to learn the things I must. Now, for her own safety, Hermione must now cram a lot more education into a restrictive amount of time because she must be at or near my skill levels to face those arrayed against me and against her by mere association. I can only hope that she'll forgive me for what I've done to her and her family through sheer ignorance."

"Harry," Hermione whispered soothingly in his ear, "I don't think you've hurt me or my family, sometimes things just happen and you have to deal with them as they are. Besides, from what little I've garnered about things from speaking to you, it sounds like I'll not escape the coming turmoil you keep suggesting in your manner and words."

"Listen to your witch, young Harry Potter," Rowena seemed suddenly serious and non-flirtatious, "she seems insightful, observant and wants to please and be praised by her wizard; I can already see that you complete each other as you both have what the other needs."

"Do you believe in fate, young lord?" Gryff asked unexpectedly.

"I . . . I don't understand," Harry replied.

"It's just something to think about, nothing more; nothing less," the Sorting Hat inscrutably said before lilting rather whimsically, "so; you want to know about our students my old friends?"

"Yes, any prospects or things we should know," Helga—now recovered from her fit of joviality—said.

"Well you obviously know about the arrival of Patrons Black and Potter and without a doubt, Lady Granger is an outstanding candidate," Gryff answered. "What really bodes well for us is that the remaining Scions of the Four Families are also in residence and year-mates of young our young friends here."

"That is wonderful and timely news," Godric said, "we must return the Longbottom and Bones heirs to the fold but first we must prepare Harry and Hermione—they'll likely be our first voices at Hogwarts in many years."

"Excuse me," Hermione politely said, drawing the Founders and Hat's attention back to the children, "you all seem very enthusiastic and seem to be fermenting plans with me and Harry at their heart but you've not asked us if we wish to be part of them. I can't speak for Harry but before I'll become part of anything, I'll need to know a lot more than I do now and while Harry seems to understand politics and the whole use and be used thing, I've never experienced it. Everything is very new to me and I'm far from the people I'm sure I can trust—no offense Harry."

"It's okay, Mione, I feel the same," Harry reassuringly said, "I know what it's like but I've had a head start at understanding what it means to be at the center of things."

"Such wise children," Rowena essentially purred, "I'm not asking you to trust us, trust isn't asked for it's earned and—from my experience—people who ask are often not fit to be given it. Let me be upfront and I think I speak for us all; we can't afford secrets between us, ask your questions Hermione and if we know the answer you'll know too."

"Thank you," Hermione said, deferentially, "I'm sure given time I'll have so many questions that you'll dread seeing me but I've yet to have the time to formulate any except one, which seems very important to Harry and me: who is Tom Riddle and what's he got to do with Voldemort?"

As expectant as Hermione, Harry intently stared at the portrait containing the Founders and waited for them to answer; the Founders noted the children's intense eyes and knew that they had to address this first.

"Tom Marvolo Riddle isss the bassstard child of a minor muggle noble and the lassst born daughter of my once noble line, Merope Gaunt," Salazar Slytherin literally hissed. "Voldemort isss the ssshortening of the narcisssssssissstic and unimaginative anagram 'I am Lord Voldemort' that he invented in hisss sssecond or third year; when he found a way to accesss the Book of Namesss."

"I've not heard you hiss this much in ages, Sal," Helga said softly.

"What do you expect," Salazar said, his voice a mixture rage and regret, "my name, my pet all twisssted to sssuite hisss need to feel important; we could not act asss he very nearly drew the wrath of the Crown upon usss all with hisss little civil war over sssomething that will sssee the end of usss if it continuesss. Sssuch a ssshort sssighted and vain fool and the idiotsss who kisssss hisss robesss in the name of pureblood sssupremacssie."

Hermione and Harry listened carefully to Salazar Slytherin's rant and picked out a few things that the authors and editors of Hogwarts: A History seemed to have gotten wrong.

"Excuse me again," Hermione interjected, "didn't the Founders—I mean you four, according to Hogwarts: A History—have a falling out over the blood issue?"

"One of the first things for us to fix once we regain Avatars," Rowena replied.

"What do you mean fix?" Harry asked.

"The so called Great Divide between Sal and the rest of us when it came to newbloods," Rowena answered. "First you need to understand what it was like for witches and wizards in our day as the new religion came to dominate these lands; it pushed us to the very fringe of influence—why do you think we're in Northern Scotland, eh?—and sought to monopolize magic with what mostly amounted to parlor tricks. We founded Hogwarts during this turmoil and while we all agreed that our children, of line or new, needed protection; we disagreed on how to best protect them and ourselves: Sal wanted us to literally take the newblood families—mother, bother; father, sister magical and non-magical alike—and forcibly relocate them to Hogsmeade. As our neighbors, we wouldn't be splitting up families and we could protect them while protecting ourselves with the non-magical world being none the wiser. While my feelings on the matter leaned towards Sal's, Helga and Godric thought making whole families disappear was problematic—especially if some of those families were of muggle nobility. In the end simple logistics won out; moving that many, housing, feeding and giving them something to do was beyond our abilities. It's the reason Hogsmeade exists and it was our hope that it would grow in a direction that would someday reach Salazar's almost utopian vision."

"You mean Hogwarts: A History is wrong?" Hermione sounded scandalized.

"In countless ways," Helga replied. "It was written by what we now commonly call a 'hack' and several hundred years after our Sources' demise by a bitter and inbreed but wealthy and arrogant head of the Goyle family who was upset because his son wasn't doing as well as the 'First of Lines' being educated beside him."

"Hermione," Salazar said with a smile, "if you want the real Hogwarts: A History please talk to us."

"I agree with Sal," Rowena said, "there are so many things I'd love to teach you."

Once more, Harry and Hermione felt their temperatures rise; Rowena's tone implied more than her words offered and the young witch and wizard once more became aware of how close their bodies were to each other. I bet Rowena Ravenclaw could even unsettle mom and Aunt Nancy, Hermione thought, fighting a haze that was making concentration difficult.

"I think you're overloading our young guests Rowena," Helga said both playfully and concerned, "we can pick this up another time."

"Yes, I think you're right," Godric concurred and then firmly fixed his eyes on their visitors, "I do hope you will help us Hermione and hope to speak with you often; to that end you have unfettered access to these chambers. Still, if you wish to bring someone else in you'll need Harry to allow it for now—we trust you understand why we'd like you to keep this secret?"

Hermione nodded, the sense of being accorded a privilege that rivaled being a confidant to royalty was overwhelming and left her speechless.

"What about me?" Harry asked.

"You made you intention clear when you invoked and claimed your office as Patron or are we mistaken?" Salazar asked.

"Damn," Harry muttered, "it's not that I mind but I wish my dad had been a little more forthcoming in his letter."

"Harry," Hermione said softly, "It's like your parents knew what was coming and have intentional forced your hand."

"Don't I know it and I understand that too but it'd be nice to be just an eleven year old for a little bit, Mione."

"I imagine you two have much to talk about and I recommend you explore the chambers thoroughly—they'll provide you with everything you might need but like Sal says; be discriminating when it comes to inviting or talking to others," Godric advised. "We have a lot of catching up to do now that this office has been reinstated but before you go we need to introduce someone, Fiona."

Within seconds, the door opened and a nondescript girl who looked to be in sixth year walked in, she was wearing Gryffindor colors but Hermione didn't recognize her from either the dorm or their house table.

"Harry," Hermione whispered into the boy's ear, "I've not seen this girl at our table or anywhere in or near our dorm."

"Who are you?" Harry challenged, "My friend does not recognize you."

"You can't expect a first year in only her second day at Hogwarts to recognize everyone, that's awfully demanding and not fair to her," the girl smiled impishly.

"Recognize? Yes . . . Know? Of course not," Harry replied firmly.

"My, you do have a high opinion of your friend; can I play with her too? Hi moms; dads," the last being directed at the Founders.

"Enough Fiona," Salazar virtually ordered, "Sorry, Harry; Hermione, she and her brother—for lack of a better term—Peeves the Poltergeist are our eyes and ears in and around the castle, both are the results of some complex soul magic and are—for all intents—the spirit of Hogwarts. Fiona always looks like a sixth year student that people always think is shy, reserved and a member of another house—she's neither—shy and reserved that is; I'd be careful Hermione, lest you receive some extra education at her fingers."

Hermione was blushing again.

"I really want her as mine; Hermione is so aware of herself that I hunger at the thought of teaching," Rowena said breathlessly.

"As I was saying," Salazar continued, "and Peeves usual appears as—well—a poltergeist but also has a similar physical construct that makes him look like a nondescript and forgettable sixth year boy. We've instructed them to respond when you call—try to keep it private, please—and just so you know, neither can bring true harm to a student. Peeves tends to interact with students by playing pranks; Fiona interacts in . . . other . . . ways."

Hermione, as red as red could be, glanced both nervously and excitedly at the construct called Fiona and was beginning to wonder if she should just change her name to Alice, to save time. I hope the rabbit hole bottoms out soon, I don't know how much further I can fall, she thought, I'm not even sure how much I can tell mom.

"How . . . How much can I say to my parents?" Hermione asked; her confusion was becoming obvious.

"As much or as little as you want but be careful with what you write, my dear," Helga replied, hoping to ease the girl's anxiety, "secrecy is our strength right now, don't weaken us unnecessarily."

"Young Lady Granger's parents have an interesting history from what I could glean without intrusion," Gryff re-entered the conversation, "I think we might wish to consider them as allies but first I'd suggest we send them rings."

"Rings?" Hermione repeated.

"They're Founders' relics, which protect the mind from arcane intrusion, suggestion and influence—the Imperious Curse and/or Legilimency for example—while being worn," Gryff replied, "I've sent for them."

As soon as he had spoken, the door opened an unremarkable sixth year boy walked in bearing two ring boxes.

"Peeves, I assume," Harry said.

"Yes Lord Potter; Lady Granger," Peeves replied respectfully before handing Harry the boxes; he then skipped to Fiona and embraced her in a manner that didn't suggest siblings.

"Please send those to your parents as soon as possible, Hermione," Godric instructed, "and explain to them their purpose and importance."

"My first letter home is going to be incredibly long and complicated," sighed Hermione, she sounded very resigned.

"I'd say," Rowena teased; her voice was like hot honey.

"Enough," Salazar commanded, "I'm sorry Lord Potter, Lady Granger; Rowena is the way she is for a reason and not shy about her proclivities—well, none of us are but that's not important right now—it's why we seek underage witches and wizards to be our heirs and Avatars. That, though, is a discussion for another day but right now, we need to catch up to today before we can move forward; please excuse us for now."

Salazar Slytherin's dismissal afforded no discourse by either child and they made their way to the door, it swung open on its own; Harry and Hermione turned before exiting and each respectfully bowed their heads, Harry said, "Thank you for your time, Lords and Ladies Founders, we shall take our leave for now and eagerly await our next meeting."

"You've been well taught young Lord and I expect you'll ensure that your witch is also properly instructed," Salazar said. "While we might think that most of the formal etiquette, which has found its way into our customs, is pointless and—in many cases—distasteful; it can't be ignored if you wish to be successful, influential and prominent in our society."

"Of this I am well and truly aware and have received an offer of tutorage for Lady Granger, if she's so inclined, from the Longbottom Scion," Harry replied. "As he is the acquaintance and friend to the Lady Bones-Elect, he will likely be able to call upon her knowledge for matters that are generally the prerogative of Courtly Ladies."

"Again, I must commend your wisdom for one so young," Salazar praised, "you've already began to build the foundations of future allegiances."

"I shall pass your compliments onto my tutors and friends in The Nation," the young wizard conferred, "they taught me the importance of building strong relations with other powerful families."

"Indeed, most astounding," commended Salazar, "so young and already allied with The Nation and The People—yes, very strong allies indeed."

"Thank you Lord Founder, allow us to take our leave," Harry said.

"Good day then young Lady and Lord," Salazar said, his compatriots echoed his sentiments.

With formal farewells spoken, Harry and Hermione left the five-sided room; hand in hand. The doors closed with a resounding and firm thump behind them.

Hermione took a loud and deep breath before saying, "Th . . . That was so intense, Harry."

"I'd say but it seemed worse for you, Mione, any ideas why?" Harry asked gently.

"You must've felt it," Hermione said breathlessly, "it was so thick that had they not been paintings the musk would've been overwhelming and strong enough to taste; we'd have had to air our robes before we ran into anyone—especially a teacher—we'd find ourselves answering a ton of questions."

"What type of questions?" asked Harry, he wasn't serious; he knew.

"About me, you and—well—you know."

"I do?"

"C'mon Harry," Hermione sounded exasperated, "you must've noticed Rowena's behavior or her so not subtle innuendo; if she could've she would've taken me on the table, in there and the other Founder's would've encouraged her to be . . . creative, I'm sure."

"I'm curious, Mione," his green-eyes playfully sparkled as he spoke, "would that be a bad thing or were you just surprised?"

The hazel-eyed witch looked away as she answered just the second question, "Of . . . of course I was surprised; I never thought people from the Founders' Era could be so—I don't know—openly . . . um . . . a . . . sexual; I kinda imagined they'd be—you know—prudish."

"Prudish is an invention of Victorian England," Harry said simply, "it's—in my opinion—unnatural and inhibitive, our behavior towards each other suggests we share those sentiments but, all that aside; which types of magic were the Founders known for?"

Hermione glanced up and right; then replied, "I read in the first chapter of Hogwarts: A History that Rowena Ravenclaw excelled in Transfiguration and Arithmacy . . ."

"I'm going to ask the goblins if you can use their library, Mione," Harry said casually, "you need better reference material and—mind you—while Goblin written history may be so dry it makes the Sahara feel like a swamp it is detailed and accurate to the nth degree."

"I get it, Harry, I suffer from bad source malady," she sounded as if she had been scandalously ill-informed and not just a little envious. "So—mister well informed—tell me; what were they known for?"

"Well, obviously they excelled in things like Transfiguration, Charms, etc. . . But they were known as the Prime Ritualists of their age; what do you know about Ritual Magic?"

Hermione looked thoughtful before answering, "Virtually nothing, Harry, except that many consider them to be the Lost Arts; I don't think they were ever taught at Hogwarts either."

"They weren't but to understand the Founders—Rowena Ravenclaw in particular—you need to know a little about those arts or you'll never comprehend their—shall we say—casual approach to . . . um . . . sexuality," Harry replied shyly—especially with his last word. I can't believe I'm having this conversation with a girl, particularly a girl I just met yesterday, Harry thought, can my life get any more surreal?

"I . . . I'm curious," Hermione said, she didn't know if what she felt was excitement or fear but she had to know what Harry knew: it's my nature after all—nothing more; nothing less, she thought, "continue . . ."

Looking at his friend, Harry observed that her breath was a little ragged and her gaze a little distant; he continued, carefully choosing his words, "ritual magic can be roughly divided into two overarching categories, which are life-based and death-based; their mentor trained them to be a team of life-based Ritualist Mages from a very young age."

"Their mentor?" Mentor? I haven't read a thing about a mentor, she thought.

"Merlin," he said; Hermione just nodded and thought, I guess that's not really a surprise. Harry then asked, "Do you know what a 'Ritual Chalice' is?"

"It's an ornate cup a priest uses when celebrating the Eucharist during Mass."

"Well, yes in Christian Traditions, that is; but in—and I hate the word because of how it's perceived these days—Pagan Traditions the Ritual Chalice was the central vessel of sacrament," said the young wizard, carefully watching her reactions; Hermione nodded in understanding. "In life-based rituals the central act was usually . . . well . . . um . . . sexual in nature. Rowena Ravenclaw was—for all intents—the Founders' Ritual Chalice of choice; she once declared—apocryphally speaking of course—that she wished rituals were longer and that her body could accommodate more participants."

If it had been possible, Harry was sure that Hermione would've been spewing jets of steam from her ears. As it was, her eyes were glazed, her pupils were dilated and her breathing was irregular; all of which encouraged some rather mature thoughts and sensations in the young wizard. Hermione—on the other hand—was confused. What am I feeling, she asked herself, stunned because Ravenclaw, if Harry's right, relished being used or envy because she was used—I wonder how extreme . . . ? Aaugh, what am I thinking? What do I want? What's he gonna think. I need to talk to mom or Aunt Nancy or, Hermione glanced at the door to the Founders' room, Rowen Ravenclaw . . .

"You feeling okay, Mione?" Harry asked. "You look like a cornered vixen about to be ravished by hounds."

With cheeks glowing pink and her eyes still glazed, Hermione took another deep breath and replied, "I'm okay, it's just kinda difficult that's all."

"Difficult? How so?"

"It . . . it's to do with one of the things we need to talk about, Harry—about me and my family, too, I guess."

"Let's sit again," Harry said, leading the young witch back to the sofa; they sat.

"Th . . . This is very difficult for me and I . . . I'm worried that you won't like me anymore after I t . . . tell you," the usually articulate Hermione Granger was struggling.

"'bout the only thing you could say that would make me not like you is that you're really Voldemort in drag," Harry said playfully, hoping she'd relax, "still, if you are You-Know-Who cross-dressing, you wear it well and I'd have to rethink a few things about myself, Mione."

"Cretin," she said, rewarding Harry with another playful slap to his shoulder. "Pl . . . Please be serious, Harry; this is really, really hard for me and I . . ."

"C'mon, Mione, we're spilling our secrets to each other," he encouraged, "I told you I was the Scion Designate for the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black; it's your turn."

Hermione took a deep breath, slowly exhaled then took another breath, she said, "Harry, I'm different."

"Well . . . yeah, I'd say; you're a witch and super smart: of course you're different."

"It's not just me but my family too, my parents have an . . . um . . . unusual relationship," she said, carefully choosing her words, "a relationship which most normals don't understand, let alone accept; and many condemn as abusive and wrong. Harry, would you consider yourself open minded when it comes to relationships or sexuality?"

"Hmm . . . I'm not sure how to answer that, I've hardly had any experience with relationships and my aunt and uncle would never discuss sexuality—especially with me. I think I have an open mind . . . I hope I have an open mind, why?"

"How do you feel about . . . alternate lifestyles?"

"I . . . I don't think I've ever really thought about them; I'm only eleven—sorta—it's never really been an issue," he carefully answered, "I . . . ah . . . know what they are—kinda—but my teachers didn't really understand . . ."

"Harry," she began incredulously, "are you telling me that the goblins gave you 'The Talk'?"

"Well . . . yeah, I guess; it was one of those things you don't want them to teach that I mentioned earlier: it was all rather . . . ah . . . clinical."

Hermione nibbled on her bottom lip before saying, "I wish mom and dad were here, they'd be able to explain it better—they've been part of the 'Lifestyle' for years and have always been very open with me about it; they had to be."

"They had to be?" the green-eyed wizard was—without a doubt—confused.

"Yeah, I've always been . . . very inquisitive and if my parents tried to keep their . . . um, ah . . . differences from me I would've found out anyways but as a kid I wouldn't have known to keep my mouth shut; if I unknowingly said something it would raise unwelcome questions . . ."

". . . Your parents didn't . . ."

"Of course not!" Hermione was indignant, "Mom and dad love me; they'd never intentionally hurt me or touch me like that but others would question their suitability—as parents—because they're different."

"I . . . I'm sorry Mione, I shouldn't have . . ."

"It's okay, Harry, I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have snapped at you like that; it's just that up until now my parents and Aunt Nancy were my only friends, I'm just really, really defensive that's all and your question—all things considered—wasn't really unreasonable; especially if I told you some things."

"Okay, I'm curious now—well, already was—what things?"

Hermione glanced away and studied the room a bit; she then returned her gaze to his green eyes and said, "Me and my family are what people call nudists—we prefer the term naturists—and our house tends to be clothing optional when we're not expecting visitors."

Harry blanched as unwelcome images of his aunt, uncle and cousin invaded his mind.

"I . . . I know that's sorta weird, Harry . . ." she said cautiously, noticing the way he looked.

"It's not that, Mione, I just . . . um . . . thought about my family and had one of those 'eew' moments; the Dursleys aren't really concerned about the . . . ah . . . shape they're in: I may just have nightmares tonight. Still, I guess that's okay for you and your family—I think you'd look fine nak . . ." Harry stopped speaking, turned red but couldn't take his eyes off his friend. What am I saying! He screamed in his head.

"Do . . . do you really think I'd look . . ." Hermione clapped her hands over her mouth and berated herself, I can't ask him that; what am I thinking. Does he want to see me naked? Aaugh, this is so frustrating!

Silence, but for the flame crackle in the fireplace, left the young witch and wizard feeling acutely aware of each other and that they were alone.

"Bloody hell . . ."

"Harry!" Hermione scolded.

"Sorry Mione," Harry repented, "we're getting stupid with each other again; so—and you can slap me for it if you want, afterwards—I'll just spit it out: I'm a boy, I'm older than my age and think you'd look quite fetching in the manner of attire you're accustomed to at home. As for the rest, at least your parents take care of themselves—according to you—so, they'd probably look okay too but I'm not sure how I'd feel if I saw them: I'm sure I'd feel weird though."

The bushy-haired girl smiled shyly, taking his complement in stride and said, "Th . . . Thank you Harry; and I guess I can understand that—about my parents that is. By the way . . ."

"Yes?"

"You've said 'I'm older than my age' a bunch of times now; are you going to explain that to me?" She asked.

"I think it's still your turn, Mione," he said playfully.

"My turn?"

"Yeah," Harry said with a wry smile, "you know, I tell you one; you tell me one and so on—I can tell what you've said is part of a bigger whole but I'm feeling generous and will explain that rather awkward little phrase of mine."

"Please," she said, relieved for the brief stay of execution; the rest of what she had to say was likely going to be exceedingly awkward and fraught with potential and negative consequence for their budding friendship.

"After my birthday I had a dream," he said, carefully picking his words, "well I call it a dream—that's the closest I can describe it but it was more, much more—and in it I saw my mom and she gave me a message. Don't look at me like that Mione, it was not 'just a dream'; I know what you're thinking, it's all over your face."

Chastised, Hermione looked down but still said, "Can you be sure."

"From what I learned from the goblins, yes," Harry replied firmly, "plus this 'dream' was filled with information I had no way of knowing while living with my aunt, uncle and cousin and in the muggle side of the world no less."

"What did you learn, Harry?"

"Well, for one: the goblins at Gringotts—the upper echelons anyways—were enamored by my mom and her abilities as both a caster and a crafter and when I told them of my dream they said it was well within her abilities; not that they knew how she did it."

Hermione looked very thoughtful before saying, "Correct me if I'm wrong but from what you described it seems your mom somehow set up your dream before she . . . um . . . passed on; but how . . ."

"They did say something about complex Boolean spell strings linked to event triggers, possibilities and probabilities," replied Harry, his voice brimming with pride; this was his mother he was speaking of, "I poked about with some of the Arithmacy involved and it was like trying to do Calculus when you've just learned to count."

"That's amazing Harry," the hazel-eyed witch cooed appreciatorily, "did you make any notes on your work; can I see them?"

Harry's green eyes were piercing as he answered, "I left my notes in the Potter Chambers at Gringotts, I'll send for them if you want Mione but let me finish first. As I said, I spent each weekday with the goblins to prepare and receive tutoring for my triumphant return to Magical Society but twenty days isn't very long so they cheated . . ."

". . . cheated? How?" she interrupted.

"Please, try to hold your questions, Mione; otherwise, we'll be here forever."

"Sorry Harry."

"Like I said, twenty days isn't very long—considering what I'd missed—so it was necessary to ensure that those days were used with maximum efficiency. So, the goblins—being the epitome of efficiency—opted not to go the book and rote route but with a far more thorough and quicker method of education; they directly implanted knowledge—well, memories really—into my mind."

Hermione's mouth fell agape as she stared at her friend; the implications of such methods were both wondrous and worrisome and required a level of trust from The-Boy-Who-Lived that—from what she had heard and surmised so far—didn't seem possible. I wouldn't have thought he'd be so naïve, she thought.

"Harry, that was . . ."

". . . naïve, stupid, an exercise in poor judgment?" He said with a grin before continuing, "Tell me about it and boy did I get chewed out by my aide, Vaultlord, tutors, instructors and one very surly Overlord named Ragnok after the first time. You see, they thought I'd do the goblin thing and tell them to piss off when they suggested it: a goblin would never trust so soon—if ever—and allow another to poke around in their heads. Of course, I learned after that that goblins will always take advantage of an opportunity, when freely offered; and since I had trusted The Nation so completely they in turn had an obligation to trust me in return. I was brought before The People's High Commission and The Nation's Overlord Ragnok and told what they will receive in exchange for their assistance. I could still say no and they'd still tutor me out of lasting respect for my family, especially my mother, but it would be limited. I looked about the assembly and felt very small but then remembered the dream and my mother telling me I could trust The People. I said yes and as I learned more and more about the world, I was re-entering; the more I found myself siding not just with The Nation but also with many of the others on The Council of Sentiency."

"I've not heard of the Council of Sentiency, Harry," Hermione said, forgetting that she'd been asked not to ask questions.

"The Council is an unrecognized body that tries to be a voice for the displaced and downtrodden in the Wizarding World," he replied. "It consists of many different races such as merpeople, centaurs, veela, the remnants of The Fae and of course the goblins and while they have The Crown's ear they are ignored by the Ministry for Magic and often persecuted."

"Harry," Hermione said, "tell me honestly; who are you working for or is that 'will' be working for?"

"You're asking questions again, Mione, but if you must know—and again we're in heavy secret territory here—I've been essentially commissioned to be educated and become The Crown's Voice in the Wizengamot; of course I'm expected to deal with Voldemort, along the line, too . . ."

". . . You're only eleven—and none of that 'I'm older than my age' tripe—how can they expect so much of you?"

"How much is expected of Prince Henry of Wales, Mione?"

"He . . . He's royalty, th . . . that's different!"

"Is it? We're both the only people who can properly fulfill certain roles; sometimes your role is not what you want it to be or in your control but the role must still be filled. I see the limitations and opportunities in my life and although I may not have much choice, I can still make the best of my circumstances; I can still enjoy things to the best of my ability."

Hermione opened and her closed mouth a few times before she could say, "How can you only be eleven, Harry?"

"I'm . . ."

". . . older than my age, I know, I know, but what does that really mean?"

Harry smiled and answered, "I've been trying to tell you but you can't hold your questions very well. Now, stop and listen to me without further interruption."

"Yes Harry," she replied to his commanding tone, as her eyes once more found the floor.

"Good girl," he purred—that's how it sounded to her, anyways—and she shivered as if he had sensually stroked her back, "I've been trying to explain.

"As I said, I was faced with a huge amount of catch up and little time to spare and while Linked Learning—the memory implant thing—imparts knowledge, it doesn't impart 'learning' and I had to learn. The goblins—and the ministry would freak if they knew—applied a Tempus Fugit Displacement charm on my chambers and for every weekday throughout August, I spent a week gaining knowledge and learning how to use it—they also had me exercising and learning how to fight magically, barehanded and armed. On top of the broad temporal displacement I was living, I was also using a little known gizmo called a Time-turner, which increased the official count of twenty weeks by a lot of uncounted hours."

The hazel-eyed witch raised her eyes and stared incredulously at the wizard sharing the sofa with her before asking, "How . . . How long do you think?"

"Maybe a year, I don't really know for sure," he answered and then redirected their conversation, "So, my pretty naturist witch, kindly continue your story and tell me about the 'Lifestyle' that you and your parents share, you promised."

"The Lifestyle as those who live it prefer it to be called," Hermione felt her concerns fade and the courage that placed her in Gryffindor strengthen her resolve and her words, "embraces what many call our dark and/or deviant desires and hunger for extreme . . . um . . . encounters of a sensual nature. It's about trust and allowing another to have full and utter control over one's entire body and soul; making such encounters the epitome of intimacy between consenting partners."

Hermione felt her heart racing and her breath hitching in the oppressive heat that seemed to have descended upon them. Sure that she was flushed, from head to toe, she gazed into fiery emeralds that appeared feral and ravenous and inviting. A moment of intimacy passed between them as her mind fogged, leaving her feeling muddled; forcing her to take a deep breath.

". . . okay, Mione?" His voice, shattering her revelry, asked.

"Yeah . . . yeah, I guess so Harry. I'm just feeling a little . . ." . . . What? She thought in panic: aroused? horny? To be taken and used? I can't say that—yet; how would he respond if he knew what I want—damn it all, need—right now? What am I going to do? How would he react if I told him that right now tenderness is the furthest thing from my mind?

Harry regarded Hermione, his feelings and thoughts vacillating between sordid and chaste; leaving him confused on the one hand but keenly aware on the other and as they gazed at each other a sole tear formed in the corner of a hazel-eye before beginning its slow descent over a rubicund cheek. Instinctually, Harry reached out, collected the tear on a finger and drew it from his witch's face; it sparkled like a liquid diamond under the dancing flames lighting the room. He studied the small teardrop before unconsciously bringing it to his mouth and, with the tip of his tongue; consumed it. The drop was salty and yet surprisingly sweet and in that moment Harry felt an unknown sensation course through his body; he was certain he heard a quiet gasp from the girl he faced, as well.

"What's wrong Mione?" he asked as he finally mustered the ability to speak.

"I'm so my mother's daughter," Hermione soulfully confessed before shifting her eyes from her wizard. "I always sorta knew—if only you could see some of my thoughts, Harry, you'd understand—but between Rowena and what just happened I know for sure; quod erat demostrandum."

"Q. E. D?" Harry asked quietly, mostly to himself; then said, "I'm not sure if I'm seeing the big picture, Mione, but is there anything wrong with being like your mom?"

"No, it just makes me different in one more way," she answered calmly, "but I expect few will understand, just as they didn't understand mom; I'll not hide what I am—to you anyway—but I know I must be careful: Harry . . . are you . . . the one . . . for me?"

If the young wizard had been marginally confused before, Hermione's odd last question—echoing in the cavern his mind had become—was like a sucker punch from dear Cousin Dudley; Harry was fully flummoxed and stared at his witch.

Had things not been so serious, the young witch would've found Harry's befuddled look amusing but she knew he deserved an immediate explanation; she said. "I know this must be hard to understand but please bear with me Harry and I'll try to explain but what I'm about to say must stay between us—well, I guess you can tell the Founders; I'm certain they'll understand."

Harry's response was a simple nod.

"To understand me it's necessary to understand my parents," she began, "and while many can understand the dominating nature of dad; few can understand the submissive nature of mom. I think most people, if they saw her at home would think her a weak doormat: if they saw her outside, they'd likely think her an entirely different person. I told you that my parents served together in the military—my dad was a Major and my mom was a Captain, by the way—and it's not very surprising that they both gravitated to that life but neither really understood that till later they told me. When they retired from active service, my dad opened a surgery and began a civilian practice. With the money he earned, my mom was able to follow her dream to become a dental surgeon: a dream that her parents' lack of money prevented but had encouraged nonetheless; they even understood and were quite forthright—I'm told—when my parents began living together and never had a problem with them sharing a bed when they visited."

Hermione stopped, took a thoughtful breath, and then continued, "My mother is a very strong woman; she graduated summa cum laude, a feat that no weak person could match, no matter how hard they tried: I don't think they could even make the barest of Medical Degrees, let alone higher but that's neither here nor there.

"Anyways, while my mom was studying, they discovered they were growing less and less satisfied with their intimacy and although they loved each other fully, they were becoming frustrated; neither understood why or what was happening. In my mom's second to last year at university, she met the woman I call my Aunt Nancy Moore. Oddly, she wasn't a student or an employee of the university; she just liked the campus grounds, she told my mom, and she frequented a nearby club, too. Aunt Nancy—through the budding friendship with mom—became both the confidant and confounder of my mom; this is where things began to take a very odd turn for my parents and when they began to understand that some people were just plain different.

"The first part of the puzzle they'd stumbled into was when my mom told my dad that she was beginning to have feelings for another person, even when her love for him was growing. Being both rational and logical, they openly discussed her new feelings but even with his open-mind, my dad was very surprised when mom told him that the intimate stirrings were for another woman—he had expected a fellow male student or perhaps a professor. Seeing no way out of the conundrum they found themselves in, they opted for a direct approach: they made a date with Aunt Nancy."

"I can see why you're in Gryffindor, Mione; you obviously got your courage from your parents," Harry interjected. "I don't know how my dad might've dealt with that but my Uncle Vernon would have a heart attack if Aunt Petunia made that confession: nope, my ever so proper Uncle Vernon doesn't like people who are different and I've heard plenty of rants about queers and dykes destroying society."

"How do you feel about it, Harry?" Hermione asked, worry shading her voice.

"Me?" he began, "I'm not really sure one way or another besides, it's none of my business what other people do, is it now?"

"Do you really mean that?"

Harry, scratching the back of his head, answered; "Last year, when my relatives finally relented and got my eyes re-tested, I saw two guys kissing; I thought it was strange but that's about it: on the other hand, my uncle seemed to consider, seriously, if he could get away with running them over. As it was, by the time we returned to the house; I swear that the air in the car had taken on a decidedly blue hue. I was ordered into the house and as soon as the door closed behind us, my uncle cuffed the side of my head hard enough to break an arm on my new glasses. He ordered me into my cupboard; 'damn freaks, like you and those filthy faggots, are ruining my country!' I remember him yelling."

Shocked by Harry's candor she asked; "Did your uncle hit you a lot?"

"I don't wanna talk about it," he muttered.

"But Harry . . ."

"Don't Mione, it is a matter for which I'm still considering my options; you will not ask me about it," he said emphatically and saw Hermione study the floor once more.

"Yes Harry."

"So they made a date with your Aunt Nancy . . . please continue, Hermione."

"I can't imagine how awkward it must've been but remember their regimental motto," she looked at Harry and saw him nod, "well they dared and won but didn't really realize what until later. You see, initially, they thought that once mom told Aunt Nancy how she felt—especially when mom was accompanied by her very strapping fiancé—they thought that my aunt would likely freak out totally; she surprised them by calmly asking my how my dad felt about his finance's new feelings."

Hermione took another deed breath and continued, "My parents told me that of all the probabilities they considered, regarding Aunt Nancy, this one was so low that they hadn't really considered it and hadn't made a corresponding contingency plan. Prepared, as it were, for the real possibility that things would become ugly between them, this calm response caught me dad completely unguarded; I was told that the table became really, really quiet. Eventually, I'm told, my father hesitantly answered that, all in all, the idea of his finance having feelings for another woman was not something he had control over and conceded that my mom couldn't realistically be expected to control the direction of her feelings, either. Daddy also said, mom told me, that while he didn't really expect this side of her he felt it was better to deal with it up front rather than after tons of lies and betrayals later. When Aunt Nancy asked if this would end my parents' engagement and living arrangements—I'm told she was really worried that she had hurt them or destroyed their relationship by befriending mom—my dad simply answered by asking her how she felt about my mom."

"I think I'd have liked to be the fly on the wall during that conversation," Harry said with an encouraging grin.

His interruption was welcome; it allowed Hermione a moment to consolidate her thoughts before resuming: she returned his grin with a shy smile and said, "It would've b'n interesting I'm sure but let me continue."

Harry agreed with a brief nod of his head.

"Aunt Nancy," Hermione resumed, "I'm told, glanced between mom and dad for ages and then began to laugh; to my parents it sounded haughty and derisive—that's just how she sounds, she isn't though. My dad—feeling like she was laughing at them—said he felt insulted and belittled, while mom felt like she wanted to crawl into a hole and die; they were about to stand and leave but were stopped when my aunt said, I'm told, 'it's hot that a sexy bird finds me attractive but how does her beau feel?'. My mom says Aunt Nancy winked, conspiratorially, at her before turning her attention to dad and asking if he thought she was attractive, too. My dad was trained to keep his responses and emotions in check, under the most extreme circumstances no less, at all times: his training failed. Unable to respond, they told me that my dad actually blushed and looked away; his answer didn't need any words."

"What happened?" Harry urged her to continue.

"I'm told; they managed to make it through an awkward and silent dinner," she replied, "and after barely touching their desserts and after dinner coffees, my aunt suggested a little walk around the nearby campus grounds, to help settle their stomachs; not to mention my mom and dad's thoughts and feelings. As they wandered, my mom said, Aunt Nancy somehow managed to get between her and dad and would unsettlingly brush against one or the other from time to time. Eventually they found themselves sitting together on a secluded bench; where my aunt forthrightly asked, what my parents wanted to do. They decided they'd let things develop as they may and figure things out as they arose. After that, Aunt Nancy said she had to leave but that she hoped to see mom and dad soon. My parents and aunt bade each other farewell and as they were about to leave, Aunt Nancy turned to my dad and suddenly gave him a very passionate kiss—according to mom—she then turned to my mom, did the same and giggled before saying she didn't want her girlfriend to feel left out. They went their separate ways and when my parents got home; my dad took my mother very passionately and rather roughly, I'm told. Afterwards, my mom told dad that she had never felt so utterly satisfied and hoped it wasn't a onetime thing. My mom's admission that she had liked the rougher encounter soothed my dad; he had thought he might've hurt her, and when she admitted that while he had hurt her a little, it had added a whole new and. . . sens . . . sensual dimension that felt incredible."

Harry felt his heart beating very fast and the air in the room had gotten somewhat thin but he needed to hear the rest; he said, "Obviously they've remained friends but how did they resolve the other issues?"

With her eyes a little glassy, Hermione resumed telling her tale and replied, "Well that night they made love more times than they had ever before and they agreed to make another date with my aunt. They told me that the next time they met; things were a little awkward but that soon passed as they became comfortable with each other. My parents and Aunt Nancy 'dated' I guess you could say and, over time, things grew casual enough that their shared kisses had become the norm."

"I can't imagine having a conversation like this with an adult, let alone a parent; it's kinda hard to wrap my head around, Mione, as it is." Harry said, not in question but in the sense of being flabbergasted.

"Like I said," Hermione resumed, "my parents and aunt have always been open with me—how could they not be when even as a young child I knew they shared a bed when she visited, frequently; she's like a second mother to me now but let me finish please, Harry."

In the dancing light cast by the torches and fireplace, the obvious red glow that colored their cheeks seemed inflamed and telling; the look in Harry's green eyes urged his witch to continue.

"As their relationship deepened, they've told me, it became apparent that they were heading towards intimacy," she continued, "and it was time to lay all their cards on the table but before they could my Aunt Nancy told them she had a couple of confessions to make. The first was that she was in a loveless sham of a marriage and that divorce was impossible but if my parents could put that aside and respect her privacy they could continue seeing each other.

"Considering my parents' past, they had an acute sense of discretion and the whole 'don't ask questions' thing; they were also told that Aunt Nancy was expected to bare an heir for her husband but otherwise they led completely separate lives. Although not really happy about this, my parents understood the concept of 'duty' and could accept Aunt Nancy's situation and not pry."

"That sounds quite magnanimous of them," Harry commented, "what was the second thing?"

"It was even more complicated; my aunt told me she knew it would be easier to show than explain and invited my parents to her club," she answered. "My parents were told to dress comfortably and meet my aunt at a nearby café the next Saturday. With my mom wearing a light sundress and my dad in a light shirt and slacks, they met my aunt at the café. When they arrived, Aunt Nancy was waiting—my dad said she looked really, really nervous—and they joined her at a table. She told my parents that she was taking them to a very exclusive club and that they promise to remain open-minded while they were there. Agreeing, to what my parents said was a very forceful and heartfelt request; they left the café and walked for a few blocks before turning down a dirty ally. They followed my aunt and found themselves by a door that they hadn't seen until they were standing at it.

"Nodding to a doorman, who my parents swore they didn't see until Aunt Nancy spoke to him, they were bowed through the door and into a smoky lounge. My mom told me that the first thing they noticed was that it wasn't smoke but a very fine warm mist that had an indescribable scent and that the club was playing some very soothing mood music augmented by lights that glowed reds, oranges, yellows and purples. Ethereal was the way my parents described it as Aunt Nancy led them to a booth and summoned a waitress who—stunningly according to my dad—was wearing a uniform that consisted of nothing more than leather and fishnet that left nothing to the imagination and a pair of stiletto heeled boots.

"Speechless," Hermione continued, "is how my aunt described my parents as their eyes swept across the erotic—it was the only word to describe it my mom told me—sights around them and took it upon herself to order drinks for everyone. The drinks were promptly served and my dad—feeling the need for a stiff drink by this time—gulped it down; he was surprised when the refreshing drink contained no discernible alcohol. Seeing the look on my dad's face, my aunt said she told them that they wouldn't find a drop of alcohol in the club, that if someone arrived under the influence they wouldn't be admitted and that the allure of the place was to be found beyond the refreshments served. Puzzled, obviously, my parents were beyond words but both have said that even with everything that was going on around them, it just felt right. At one point, I'm told, they were joined by a man of my aunt's acquaintance, whose manner of dress was very similar to the waitress'; he was introduced as Phoenix and bore a striking resemblance to my dad, they tell me, in the manner of how he carried himself and dominated those around him. My aunt told my parents that she had booked a private salon and then excused herself so she could make sure things were ready.

"Left to themselves and not knowing what to say or expect, they've told me," the bushy-haired witch continued after a few breaths, "mom and dad ordered a couple more drinks for themselves and told me how they broke out laughing when they noticed that the other was checking out the waitress. Again, they said it didn't feel strange and found themselves so close that they were basically snuggling and as their hands roamed beneath their table—to their pleasant and mutual surprise—their eyes roamed the lounge; they noted that, when they considered the other patrons, they were by far the tamest with their behavior. My dad told me that by the time their second drinks arrived, he was tempted to leave with mom, run home and—he really said this to me, too—fuck my mom hard and repeatedly until she was sore and contentedly passed out. Of course, they couldn't be rude to their host and close friend, my mom said, so they waited until the waitress returned to summon them to my aunt's salon. You still with me, Harry?"

"Ye . . . yeah, I . . . I'm okay; just finding this room g . . . getting really . . . um . . . hot and stuffy," the young wizard replied, his breath shallow and somewhat rapid.

"I'm almost done, so humor me a little longer," Hermione replied; her voice low, raspy and breathy.

Harry nodded again and continued to stare raptly at the sexy, he suddenly thought, surprising himself; am I really thinking that—I mean she is and all—and after that business with the Founders, I'm definitely feeling older than my age.

"My parents tell me that they followed the waitress—each admitting that the woman's body was stirring their already swirling feelings with thoughts that neither had ever really entertained before meeting my aunt—and were led to a door," Hermione said as she fought against her body's instincts. "The waitress knocked and pulled the door open, my parents entered and almost bolted when they saw my aunt; she had her wrists and ankles shackled to the floor, she was kneeling with her legs spread and unabashedly naked. Feral and hungry was the way my mom described how Aunt Nancy looked when they entered and my parents distinctly remember her saying, 'this is who I am, who I've always been and who I'll always be and if we choose to move forward you must accept this part of me, please join me, I think I'm falling in love.'

"My parents described their feelings for what they saw as stepping beyond a line and into a whole new and welcoming world. They also told me that in that little round room, rimmed by a bench upholstered in the same padded red leather that covered the walls, they found what they had been missing in the sight of my Aunt Nancy bound and helpless on a padded turntable before them. That night they witnessed things they had never envisioned and each found their future place and role in the entertainment my aunt was eagerly part of. Do you understand me, now, Lord Potter?"

Hermione stared at Harry, trying to predict his answer but found an inscrutable gaze looking her over from top to bottom until, at last, he broke the deafening silence and asked, "What does that mean for you and I? How do we proceed from here and where are we going?"

"I don't know yet, Harry."